If you’ve sustained a severe quadriceps muscle strain, the answer to whether or not you can continue to run will be pretty obvious. The pain that comes with an acute and more severe (Grade 2+) quads strain will be fairly debilitating.
However for the many runners who suffer from less severe (Grade 1) quads strains, it’s often less clear as to whether or not you can run through a quad strain. How do you know if you can continue to run with a quad strain?
If your quad strain is causing you pain or limited range of movement, do not run through the injury. Running increases the potential for further damage to the injured muscle tissue. Your quad strain will recover faster if you take a rest from running and focus on physical therapy exercises.
Once you are able to move pain free through a full range of movement at the knee and and hip, and can hop pain free on the affected leg, you can start running gently.
Of course, if you’re in any doubt, please do see a physical therapist for treatment and advice. This article is meant for your information and doesn’t replace proper medical care.
Running with a Quad Strain
The four quadricep muscles (rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis) make up the bulk of the musculature in the front of the thigh.
If you’re not sure whether your quad strain is mild or more severe, check out this article I shared previously which will help you to understand the severity of muscle strains and tears. Muscle strains and tears are graded on a scale from 1-3.
If your quad strain is mild (Grade 1), you have rested the injury to the point that you are able to hop on the injured leg without pain, and have full range of movement, I’d suggest starting with a gentle return to running plan. Here’s an example of a simple plan you can follow to ease your leg back into running.
To begin with, keep all of your running at a slow pace, on flat, predictable surfaces. Faster running and uphill or downhill running will place more strain on your quadricep muscles. This added strain will be fine eventually, and is actually an important part of your recovery process, but only when the leg is ready for it!
Alongside your return to running programme plan, be sure to follow a physical therapy programme designed to progressively strength your quads and address any muscle imbalances around your hips and knees that may have caused the injury in the first place.
Rehab Exercises for a Quad Strain
Below are some of the physical therapy exercises I give my clients to help them recover from a quad strain and get back to running pain free. I have listed them in order of where they usually sit in the timeline of treating a quadricep strain and returning to running…
Inner Range Quads Strengthening
This is a super simple quads strengthening exercise. Although it is often used as an early stage rehab exercise after knee injuries, is a great isometric exercises to re-build strength in the quadriceps muscles after muscle strain or tear.
Aim for 10 reps of 10 second holds.
Another simple but effective strength exercise for your quads is the wall sit. Much like the exercise above, this is an isometric strength drill for your quads. The difference being that in this exercise you’re beginning to introduce weight bearing into the rehab programme. The wall sit also allows you to work through different ranges of motion, depending on how deep of a squat you set yourself up in on the wall.
Aim for 5 reps of 30-60 second holds
Quads Foam Rolling
While your quads tear is healing, it is a good idea to work on the health of the soft tissue around the site of injury. This foam rolling routing for your quads will help you work on any areas of tightness of scar tissue that form while your thigh is healing.
Of course, with a quad strain it’s a muscle in the front of the thigh that has been injured. That doesn’t mean we ignore the all-important glutes and hamstrings, two of your biggest posterior chain muscle groups! This glute bridge exercise will help you to maintain strength in your glutes and hamstrings while you take some time off running to let your quadriceps heal.
Aim for 3 sets of 10 x 10 second holds
As your quadriceps heal, you need to start re-introducing some slow, controlled loading through a normal range of motion. Bodyweight squats are great for this. Feel free to add some weight if you want to challenge yourself further, but bodyweight is enough to get you started.
Aim for 5 sets of 15 reps
As we get closer to your return to running, it’s important to work your legs in more of a running specific way. The split squat allows us to load the two legs differently at the same time. A word of caution: take it gently when you’re working with your injured quad as the rear leg – if you’re holding any excess tension or soft tissue restrictions in your quads, you might find this quite challenging. If you do, then I’d recommend revisiting the foam rolling routine above!
Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps leading with the left leg, and the same on the right.
Bulgarian Split Squats
As a progression to the split squat, the Bulgarian split squat challenges you a little more in terms of single leg strength and stability.
Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg
Single Leg Squats
As runners, our single leg balance and stability is hugely important for preventing injuries. As your quads strain treatment and rehab exercises progress, the single leg squat will be an important exercise to master!
Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg, slow and controlled
Adding more multi-directional and dynamic movements into the mix will prepare your body for real-world movements and build strength in all planes of movement. The dynamic nature of this lunge drill will test the strength of your quads and give you the confidence that you’re ready to gently start your return to running plan.
Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg (5 each direction)
Final Thoughts on Running with a Quad Strain
If you’ve suffered a quad strain, hopefully you can now see the importance of resting your leg and not trying to run through the pain and discomfort. It’s much better to take a rest from running for a shorter period immediately, than to try and tun through a quad strain and inevitably make the injury worse, requiring you to take a longer and wholly avoidable longer break from running.
Give the exercises above a try, and if you’re in any doubt please speak to your physical therapist.